By Andrew Mild
The Lake County Corn Dogs capped off their 2022 season winning the Northern League Championship in their first year as a franchise. The Corn Dogs broke records and concluded a historic season. And now it was time to recognize some special people that played such a large part in the inaugural season.
Justin Huisman, Manager of the Year
Ten years ago Justin Huisman was a manager of an expansion team in the Midwest Collegiate League (now the Northern League). Leading the NWI Oilmen to their first of their three championships. Fast forward to 2022 and Huisman is managing yet another expansion team in the Northern League.
Huisman led arguably the greatest team in Northern League history this season, with 35 regular season wins in 46 games. The number of wins and winning percentage for the Corn Dogs set new records in the league. Huisman’s Corn Dogs also led the league in offense, pitching and defense.
Now, he adds one more accomplishment: Northern League Manager of the Year.
Ryan Troxel, Pitcher of the Year and Unanimous All-Northern League Team
Baseball is a game of adjustments. Players have to adjust to an umpire’s strike zone in every game. A pitcher might not be getting on top of the curve or a hitter might be dropping his shoulder and popping up. In this game, you have to adjust to survive.
Ryan Troxel was able to make those adjustments, which led to the best pitching campaign of the 2022 season. Troxel added a changeup to his repertoire, and simplified his mechanics in going just out of the stretch. He would also start the 2022 season as a reliever for the team, and after the starting rotation thinned out he was moved to the rotation.
Troxel dominated the competition this season, with a 0.90 ERA and allowing just four earned runs all year in 39.2 innings pitched. He had gone 29 innings until he surrendered his first earned run all season. Troxel struck out 51 hitters while only allowing 12 walks.
Troxel, named 2022 Northern League Pitcher of the Year, was a unanimous selection to the All-Northern League Team.
Doug Loden, All-Northern League Team (DH)
Make no mistakes, Doug Loden is not a natural. which isn’t saying that Loden isn’t talented, but Loden has worked hard to get where he is at. Loden, for the past two seasons, played at Joliet Junior College and adopted the mantra that comes with being a “JUCO bandit.” That means spending time in the gym, working on your swing in the batting cages and grinding out every day to try and become the best player you can be. That mantra didn’t go away when Loden made it to the Lake County Corn Dogs.
Before every game, Loden goes through the same routine. He found time for the gym, took swings off a tee and always wore the same shirt to every game.
So, for Loden making it to the all-Northern League Team as a designated hitter, he truthfully earned it. Loden hit seven home runs this season, while also having an OPS of 1.132. After Loden was named Northern League player of the week for hitting four home runs and winning the all-star game MVP, it seemed nobody wanted to pitch to him.
Gavin Terry, All-Northern League Team (OF)
Talk about a player that felt like he needed to prove himself this season, center fielder Gavin Terry finished his spring season with Western Illinois and decided it was no longer the place for him. He sat his freshman year and only had four at-bats in his redshirt freshman season. Terry was looking for a new home, and this season with the Corn Dogs could be a stepping stone for him.
Terry did prove himself this season for the Lake County Corn Dogs. He had a .342 batting average, a .497 on-base percentage and crossed the plate 40 times. Terry made it very easy for his manager to pencil his name into the top of the order every night.
He has now committed to play at South Suburban College next season, and hopefully he continues to prove that he should be batting leadoff and patrolling the center field meadows for his new team.
Roman Kuntz, All-Northern League Team (OF)
Roman Kuntz is not only on the All-Northern League team, but he will also wear the crown of being the league’s home run king this season. With his three-home-run performance against the Crestwood Panthers, Kuntz was two slugs away from being the new king.
Kuntz played his final game at home against the Chicago American Giants. He hit a home run early in the game to tie the record with seven home runs. He had only one more at-bat in the eighth inning, coincidentally going for that eighth home run. On the first pitch he sent it over the right field wall to set the record.
Not bad for a last at bat.
Kuntz finished the season with a .379 batting average, a 10-game hitting streak and had more RBIs in a game than any other player.
Photo by Jim Masters